‘Significant victory’: US agrees to pay nearly $50M to Guam for former Navy landfill’s cleanup
Stars and Stripes September 26, 2023
The federal government on Monday agreed to pay Guam $48.9 million for costs associated with cleaning up a toxic, former Navy landfill that was handed over to the island 53 years ago.
The settlement represents the U.S. government’s “fair share of remediation costs” for Ordot Dump, a 23-acre landfill opened prior to World War II and operated by the military for decades before being passed to the local government, Guam said in an unopposed motion Friday.
The cost to clean up the site is estimated at more than $160 million.
The settlement is a partial consent decree, meaning neither side admits liability and the money will only pay cleanup costs incurred prior to Aug. 10, 2022.
Costs from beyond that date are still subject to litigation. Guam’s government hopes future costs “may be resolved in ongoing mediation based in part on information that is being collected at this time,” the motion states.
“While serious concerns remain regarding liability for future costs associated with the Ordot Dump, this settlement represents a significant victory for our island and will enable us to move forward,” Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said in a Tuesday news release.
Judge Jia Cobb of the Washington, D.C., federal district court approved the settlement Monday. The Treasury Department is expected to pay Guam within 120 days, before interest begins to accrue, according to the settlement.
The settlement comes more than five years after Guam initially filed suit against the federal government in 2017, a case that began in Connecticut federal court and ultimately went before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Navy opened the landfill before WWII for the disposal of “municipal and military waste” and continued to operate it up to 1970, according to Guam’s 2017 complaint.
In 2002, the federal government sued Guam under the Clean Water Act, alleging the landfill was contaminating the Lonfit River and two tributaries. In response, Guam closed the landfill and began remediation work.
By 2017, Guam estimated it had spent $56 million on the cleanup.
After filing suit against the U.S. government under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, litigation on the matter largely focused on whether the island’s suit fell within the statute of limitations.
The Supreme Court in May 2021 ruled unanimously for Guam.
The Office of the Governor of Guam called the case “historic.”
“Our island’s natural resources are sacred and must be protected,” Lt. Governor Joshua Tenorio said in the news release. “While we have resolved the past costs associated with the Ordot Dump cleanup, significant work remains to ensure the dump is properly maintained and the surrounding community remains safe and healthy.”